Milwaukee Bucks: Antetokounmpos lead Greece into World Cup second round

NANJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 05: (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
NANJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 05: (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images) /

Facing a must-win game against New Zealand, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Antetokounmpo brothers led Greece to a win and into the second round.

After a disastrous defeat to Brazil on Tuesday, Greece came into Thursday’s group F finale knowing that only a win against New Zealand would spare them the ignominy of a shock first round exit.

It certainly wasn’t easy as the Tall Blacks fought relentlessly right to the end, but ultimately it was mission accomplished in Nanjing as Greece prevailed with a 103-97 win to set up a second round matchup with the USA on Saturday, followed by a meeting with the Czech Republic on Monday.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo had struggled to hit the level most had expected of him coming into the New Zealand game, but when it mattered most, the NBA MVP delivered a performance befitting that status.

Not only did Giannis excel, though, as a breakout performance truly made it a family affair and a real thrill for Milwaukee Bucks fans tuning in around the globe.

Giannis wasted little time in making a real statement of his intentions, rolling off seven points early on by way of an end-to-end break, spin and slam, a pull-up three-pointer, and a fastbreak dunk.

With that mindset established, Giannis continued to attack, forcing the Tall Blacks into racking up fouls and getting to the free throw line with real frequency. Having been 9-of-9 from the free throw line coming into this game, Giannis finished this win at 11-of-15 from the charity stripe.

As Giannis was leaving his mark on the game, Thanasis also got an opportunity to make an impact, and seized it with both hands.

Thanasis got his first run a little earlier than usual as he was inserted into the game late in the first quarter, and he quickly got involved in finding Ioannis Papapetrou for a triple, before then getting on the scoreboard with a layup of his own.

That strong start ensured extended run for Thanasis, who remained on the court to start the second quarter, and racked up an emphatic block from behind on a New Zealand big, before then finishing an incredibly athletic alley-oop slam, and coming up with an up-and-under layup after a nice move to get to the paint.

After that strong spurt, Thanasis was subbed out for Giannis to return to the game. With New Zealand more successfully walling off Giannis’ path to the paint, he took up playmaking duties in the second quarter by picking out three beautiful dimes to find his teammates.

When the second half resumed with Greece leading 51-44, Thanasis was rewarded for his strong first half with a starting spot to begin the third quarter.

As the second half wore on, Thanasis continued to have strong spurts, but it was Giannis who really took over the game for Greece. His influence expanded all across the floor with strong defensive contributions, continued trips to the free throw line, picking out his teammates with perfect passes, and fighting through contact to finish when needed.

The final margin of six points made things seem a little more uncomfortable than they actually were for Greece, as Giannis and Thanasis both had the luxury of getting some rest on the bench in the game’s last couple of minutes.

In total, Giannis finished with 24 points on 6-of-10 from the field, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and was a +14 in the box score, while Thanasis had 10 points on 4-of-7 from the field, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block, and was a +6 in the box score.

Next. Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova struggles, Turkey eliminated from World Cup. dark

Greece will need to be on the very top of their game to get the best of the U.S. on Saturday, but they’ll at least be encouraged by Giannis taking a major step forward in his production.